There’s a considerable amount of buzz surrounding the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and rightly so — after all, India is sending its largest ever contingent, and more importantly, it’s just not about quantity but quality as well. In Beijing 2008, India won three medals; four years later in London, the tally was doubled as India recorded its best ever medal haul. Naturally, the expectations this time are aplenty, and perhaps this might just be the first Olympics where India could reach double figures. Viren Rasquinha, former India hockey captain and COO of Olympic Gold Quest, feels that there are six sports in which India has a good chance of winning a medal. According to him, India can better its tally from London with shooting, badminton, women’s archery, boxing, wrestling and tennis. “These are sports where we have shown in the last four years that we can compete against the best in the world,” says Rasquinha.
Saina Nehwal, who won a bronze medal in London, will be looking to better her previous Olympic outing. Then there’s the prodigious PV Sindhu, who has come out of Nehwal’s shadows and is a name to reckon with in world badminton. Ranked number 10 in the world, Sindhu has two bronze medals at world championships, and Rio could be her breakthrough moment. The doubles team of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa has had an inconsistent 2016, but they still have an outside chance of clinching a medal. “Saina and Sindhu are our best hopes at Rio,” says former badminton player Aparna Popat.
Jun 20, 2009 – Jakarta, Indonesia – India’s SAINA NEHWAL returns the ball to China’s LU LAN during their semifinal match at the Djarum Indonesia Super Series badminton tournament 2009. Nehwal wins the match with the score of 25-23. 21-19 and goes onto the final. (Credit Image: © Yuli Seperi/ZUMA Press)
At the last three Olympic games, shooters have won at least one medal for India. In Athens, it was Rajyavardhan Rathore who won silver; Abhinav Bindra won gold in Beijing, whereas Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar won bronze and silver medals in London. The Indian shooting contingent looks really strong on paper – there’s Bindra, Narang, Manavjit Singh Sandhu (six-time Asian champion), Jitu Rai (the former world number one) and Heena Sidhu (the current world record holder in 10m Air Pistol).
A nice blend of experience and youth, coupled with consistent performances, make shooting India’s best bet for medals. If history is anything to go by, the Indian shooters will certainly improve on the previous Olympics tally. Watch out for Jitu Rai – he will compete in 10m Air Pistol and 50m Pistol and will go in as one of the favorites for a medal.
In the past three editions, India has always sent the world’s best doubles players in tennis. First it was Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, then Sania Mirza and to a certain extent, Rohan Bopanna. These players have always performed well on the international circuit, and Paes will be competing in his seventh Olympics, which is almost unbelievable. Mirza is ranked number 1 in the world in doubles, whereas Bopanna has been ranked as high as number 6. So far, they have failed to deliver at the Olympics, but with such talent at hand, one can expect them to finally turn it on at the biggest stage.
Wrestling has been in the news for the wrong reasons in the last few months. The unfortunate legal spat between fan favourite and Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav left a bitter taste, as Kumar missed out on going to Rio de Janeiro; to compound maters, Yadav has failed a dope test. Still, Yogeshwar Dutt, who won a bronze in London, looks in good shape and has been working hard to go further this time. On the women’s side, Vinesh Phogat is the rising star of wrestling in India and has done well internationally. However, out of the wrestlers that will be in Rio, all eyes will be on Yogeshwar Dutt, as he is India’s best hope for a medal.
It hasn’t been the best of the times for Indian boxing, as it doesn’t even have a recognized federation and finds itself unrecognized by the world boxing federation. Amongst the contenders is Shiva Thapa, who is rightly being considered as one of the brightest prospects for a medal. Ranked number three in the world in his category (56 kg bantamweight), Thapa has a gold medal to his name at the Asian World Championships and a bronze medal at the World Amateur Championships. “Shiva has a lot of talent and can beat anyone on his day,” says Rasquinha about Thapa.
DOHA, QATAR – OCTOBER 14: Shiva Thapa of India (red) fights Dzmitry Asanau of Belarus in the final of the Men’s Bantam Weight during the AIBA World Boxing Championships Doha 2015 at the Ali Bin Hamad Al-Attiya Arena on October 14, 2015 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Deepika Kumari has a long list of achievements – world number 1, gold medal at the archery world cup, double gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games and world record holder, to name a few. Yet, four years ago in London, she had a day to forget, which shattered her life-long dream of winning an Olympic medal. Now, she is armed with a new sense of vigour to set the wrongs of London right. At 22, Kumari will compete individually in the recurve archery event as well as the team event. Her teammates, Bombayala Devi and Laxmirani Majhi, are also considered strong contenders, and the archers could spring a surprise or two.
While these six categories present India’s best chance of winning medals in Rio, there are a few dark horses as well – like hockey. Somehow, mention hockey and Olympics together and all you can recall is humiliation and endless disappointment, but the men’s team seems to be finding form at the right time. They won the silver medal at the recently concluded Champions Trophy and have been performing well. Players like V Raghunath, PR Sreejesh and SV Sunil have the experience of big matches and competitions. There’s an outside chance that this hockey team might just reverse the trend that has been continuing for the last 20 years.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 17: Viren Rasquinha of India in action during the Men’s Hockey match between India and Malaysia at the State Netball Hockey Centre March 17, 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)
Traditionally, India has struggled at the track and field events, but this time, there are 38 athletes who have qualified for athletics events. Among them are sprinter Dutee Chand, Vikas Gowda in discus throw and Renjith Maheshwary in triple jump, who could all spring a surprise, but expecting a medal will be a tad unrealistic.
As Rasquinha says, the Olympics are all about hard work and preparation, but also about how you perform on that particular day. There’s little room for error, and the margins between winning a medal and losing are extremely fine. Expectations are high yet realistic from this Indian contingent. With athletes like Saina Nehwal, Jitu Rai, Deepika Kumari, Sania Mirza and Yogeshwar Dutt in their ranks, India’s hopes are rising with each passing day. There will be a carnival in Rio de Janeiro from August 5, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect a few fireworks from the Indian contingent.